GIG: Global lockdown measures have brought the conferences and exhibitions industry to a standstill, with events being postponed until the second half of the year or outright cancelled. What impact has this pandemic had on Greece’s MICE industry and, in particular, on Helexpo?
Pozrikidis: It is clear that by mid-March and onwards the Greek exhibition industry put the brakes on and all relevant activities were suspended by order of the government. TIF-Helexpo luckily had the chance until then to carry out, and with great success, the largest part of the exhibition programme for the first half of 2020 (Agrotica, Detrop Boutique, Artozyma and Athens International Jewellery Show).
However, the organization of the Freskon fair, which was scheduled for 2-4 April 2020 and the 45th International Fur fair of Kastoria, which Helexpo co-organises with the Association of Furriers of Kastoria, were cancelled due to the pandemic.
At the same time, the 17th Thessaloniki International Book Fair (TIBF), organised in cooperation with between the Hellenic Foundation for Culture and TIF-Helexpo, was postponed. The new dates for the TIBF, which was initially scheduled to take place from 7-10 May 2020, will be from 29 October to 1 November 2020.
GIG: When do you expect to get back to business and what is your strategy in this respect? What are the biggest challenges and what measures would you like to see to support the recovery of the sector?
Pozrikidis: Provided that the market and the economy gradually return to normal by the end of the summer, TIF-Helexpo’s exhibition programme will be launched starting with the 85th Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) taking place from 5-13 September, with Germany as the event’s honoured country.
All other exhibitions that we organize will take place from them on until the end of the year, commencing with ‘Beyond 4’ the first Digital Technology and Innovation exhibition (1-4 October 2020), Kosmima (17-19 October), Philoxenia (13-15 November) and the ART Thessaloniki International Contemporary Art Fair (26-29 November).
Henceforward, the biggest challenge is, of course, the organisational management of an exhibition or conference event according to the rules of social distancing, while meeting all coercive health-protection related measures that are required to govern the implementation of an exhibition or conference event.
Within this context, our organisation has already adopted the Good Practice Guide drawn up by the AIPC (International Association of Convention Centres) and the UFI (Global Association of the Exhibition Industry), with respect to COVID-19, which provides support to convention and exhibition centres that must cope with the challenges associated with the management of their premises.
TIF-Helexpo has gone a step further by asking the National Public Health Organization to kindly provide a clear roadmap on how we will be able to operate meeting all the appropriate health-protection standards, both at the International Exhibition Centre of Thessaloniki and the Exhibition Centre in Attica, namely Helexpo Maroussi.
The recovery of the exhibition industry will also be achieved through financial support, to mitigate the damage incurred by the sector during this period while preparing it to successfully meet the new challenges and demands of the current situation.
The truth is that the exhibition industry will play a leading role in advancing the economy to a new growth model, which will be safe for everyone.
With TIF 2020 slated to take place in September of this year, do you expect any changes in the program for this event and on your visitor turnout?
Pozrikidis: With Germany as the event’s honoured country, the 85th TIF will focus on innovation, advanced technology, entrepreneurship, and the circular economy.
The ‘menu’ for the 85th TIF also includes the theme park called Digital Greece hosting the best Greek start-ups, with special programmes dedicated to the automobile sector emphasizing electric vehicles, education, gastronomy, beauty-fashion, etc.
It is obvious that there will be adjustments, mutatis mutandis in view of the pandemic, in the programme and content of the events of the 85th TIF.
These changes are already being considered in collaboration with the government and the competent ministries, as well as the National Public Health Organization.
The national exhibition institution, in its long history, has managed to operate under extremely adverse conditions, always showing responsibility towards its guests, clients and partners. The painful experience of this pandemic will make us more sustainable and ready for the next phase, namely the recovery of the local economy and development.
GIG: The Coronavirus pandemic has seen many of Greece’s leading organisations come together to support the government’s response to this unprecedented health crisis. In what way has Helexpo contributed to these efforts?
Pozrikidis: The exhibition and conference centres are a powerful ingredient of the society’s DNA under all circumstances. In this context, TIF-Helexpo has joined forces with the society and the State in the battle against the Coronavirus.
The national exhibition institution has launched the following actions:
- It hosts a shelter for the homeless at a kiosk within the premises of the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre, upon the request of the Deputy Mayor for Social Policy of the Municipality of Thessaloniki, to contribute to a secure day and overnight stay of homeless people during this extremely critical period.
- It hosts blood drive facilities for the ‘ACHEPA’ and ‘Theagenio’ hospitals in a specially organised space within the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre, for blood donations.
- It hosts three mobile blood donation and primary health care facilities for the ‘Smile of the Child’ organisation at Helexpo Maroussi in Athens.
- It offered special and professional disinfection machinery to the hospitals of Thessaloniki and to the hospitals of Kastoria and Xanthi, which are particularly overburdened during this period, as well as to COVID-19 reference hospitals in Ptolemaida, Alexandroupolis, Ioannina and Larissa.
Though we hope that it will not be necessary, TIF-Helexpo is also ready to make the premises of the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Centre and Helexpo Maroussi available, for them to be used by the Ministry of Health and the General Secretariat of Civil Protection as they see fit, as part of their actions against the spread of the Coronavirus disease.
GIG: At an international level, many conferences and exhibitions are transitioning to an online format, leveraging VR technology and online streaming. What lessons can be learnt from this, and how can technology be further leveraged to add greater value to the overall exhibition experience?
Pozrikidis: The onset of innovative and new digital services in the exhibitions industry does not abolish the nature of exhibitions; on the contrary, they enhance their added value. Exhibition organizers have been developing and implementing new ideas and services in the digital world for quite some time.
The digital management of an exhibition event is not only limited to the services provided during an exhibition, but also includes services at an operational level. For example, the sale of an exhibition space, along with all associated services, is carried out purely in an electronic manner, while visitors to the exhibition can pre-register and print their ticket at home. These smart services make life easier for our clients.
GIG: Do you expect any substantial changes in the sector post-coronavirus? Can technology substitute face-to-face contact?
Pozrikidis: Trade fairs, being a space for communication, will remain important. Personal contacts and business meetings are very interesting components and trade fairs provide these meeting points.
Still, it is not enough to just rent an exhibition space, since additional benefits are needed.
Our goal, as an international organizer of trade fairs, is to provide high added value services to our clients. Exhibition organisers do not only sell space. Rather, they are a communications provider for their clients. This is the core of our action; namely, the creation of a successful business and trade cooperation, comprising communication and networking, at both a virtual and physical level.